March 5, 2014 // 9:11 AM
Exploring Faith at Garden Spot Village
Written by Scott Miller
Growing in the Spirit at Garden Spot Village
You might choose a place to live based on the convenience of its location, by its scenic surroundings or by the spacious floorplans and outstanding amenities it offers. You might choose a place based on its industry-leading healthcare options. You might choose it for the number and quality of activities it offers. You might even choose it for the mouthwatering menus it serves every day. Those are just a few of the reasons people choose Garden Spot Village.
If, on the other hand, you are looking to be a part of a community of adults who are on what Richard Rohr, author of Falling Upward, calls a “further journey” in the second half of life, you will find many kindred spirits here. No matter where you are on the path of spiritual development, you can expect a warm welcome and people to walk beside you.
Open doors. Open hearts. Open minds.
Garden Spot Village was founded on faith. It reflects the vision of two Christian businessmen, Victor Weaver and Ivan Martin. Committed to Christian values and principles, it is affiliated with the Mennonite Church—and it is home to all faiths and backgrounds.
Mary Zajac moved to Garden Spot Village in 1998. After a friend moved here, Zajac looked at the cottages.
“I just felt comfortable and said, ‘I could live here,’ so we applied. I did ask Bonnie [Gerig, the marketing director at the time], ‘Do I have to be Mennonite to move here?’ and she said, ‘Absolutely not!’” says Zajac, who was raised Catholic.
“I knew it was going to be very spiritual,” she says. “When we moved in, we saw for ourselves as a neighborhood where everyone was Christian.”
One of the programs that Zajac has enjoyed is Meet the Churches. For each of the past three summers, the department of pastoral services has invited six to eight pastors and representatives from local churches to give a presentation about their respective faiths and congregations. Through these hour-long weekly programs, which include a discussion period, participants have heard from Hutterites, Quakers, New Order Amish, Baptists, Calvary Church and many others. Guest speakers included pastors from various ethnic churches in the area.
Speaking of churches, The Community Church was established at Garden Spot Village last year. In the spirit of the community, it is interdenominational, and it offers an associate membership for anyone who wishes to remain a member of his or her primary church.
“It has brought the people together who are interested and open to the spirituality that begins with prayer and commitment you make to each other through that,” says Mid McClintock, who now serves on the Community Church council.
“That’s amazing, because I’m just an associate member,” says McClintock. She remains involved with Narberth Presbyterian, where she has belonged since before moving to Garden Spot Village in 2004.
Keeping faith alive
Meet the Churches is part of Garden Spot Village ALIVE (Active Lifelong Learners in Vital Engagements). This multi-faceted series of educational programs and study groups, special worship services and more, draws participants from Garden Spot Village and the surrounding area. Many of the programs feature professors from Lancaster Bible College, Evangelical Seminary and Eastern Mennonite Seminary. Recent programs have included a six-session course exploring the case for Christian pacifism, an armchair tour of the Holy Land taught by the curator of the Pense Biblical Archaeological Collection, and a lecture and discussion on living through World War II. Prior years’ programs have included table talks on Biblical views of creation, a breakfast seminar on the separation of church and state and a seminar series on world religions.
“It can be exciting, because the presenters are knowledgeable people,” McClintock says of the larger programs.
Smaller study groups serve those who desire even more interactivity. McClintock has been involved with as many as three at once. Bible studies and prayer groups meet regularly.
When Zajac first moved here, she attended many programs, but still felt something missing. Chet Yoder, director of pastoral services, recognized her dilemma.
“Chet reached out to me and said, ‘How would you like to come into a small group where you can really relate?’” Zajac says.
This summer one of those groups read and discussed Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Father Richard Rohr. And there are many others around campus.
“As you get to know more people, there are more opportunities—a wealth of choices to make,” says McClintock.
At the same time, Villagers who choose a more private approach to spiritual development can feel comfortable as well. Although McClintock finds the formation of The Community Church exciting, “if you came here and didn’t want to be a part of that, you could still have a very full life,” she says. “I have friends I wouldn’t have any conversation like this at all with, because it’s not where there interests are.”
Putting faith in action
“Persons who have private spirituality, who don’t have a church, would be impressed with the things that go on here, impressed with the goodness,” says Zajac.
McClintock says she was drawn to the community by the “attitude of openness, caring and concern” that she observed and continues to experience, referring to staff and neighbors.
“When my daughter visits from Idaho, she is always impressed by how open people here are. Everyone is outgoing and reaches out to show they care,” McClintock says.
Villagers do that in a many different ways. Some make beautifully handcrafted items and donate them for auction at the annual Fall Festival to benefit the Garden Spot Village Benevolent Fund. Volunteers operate the Share and Care Shop, which also benefits the Benevolent Fund, and provide valuable support for events like the Garden Spot Village Marathon, Pedal to Preserve and many other activities. Still others participate in Caring Connections, making intentional visits to persons who need extra support or simply reaching out to greet new neighbors.
Whatever time or talent someone has to offer, an opportunity to serve awaits. Some residents and team members travel to travel to Honduras to help build a church camp. Through the Partnership Home Program, some help build houses for homeless families on the Gulf Coast, participating to whatever degree they’re able, or sew quilts as a housewarming gift. The Making A Difference committee works on a variety of projects each year, from cleaning shelves at the New Holland Food Bank to sending care packages to servicemen and women overseas to collecting backpacks for local elementary school students in need.
Sometimes putting faith in action is as simple as opening one’s door.
“You have a choice to keep your door closed and stay private, or turn the handle and say, ‘hello.’ Then the path is open for new, daily relationship,” says McClintock. “These precious new friends have made my relationship with God develop on a deeper, firmly personal level, which is now my primary purpose.”
A community comes together
Garden Spot Village strives to provide a safe environment for exploring faith.
“There’s a good bit of freedom to go as far as you are inclined to go with it. There’s always someone to talk to about the things you have questions about,” McClintock says. She calls Chet Yoder, pastor, and Marian Harnish, associate chaplain, “exceptional—they’re the kind of people you make personal contact with. It’s not just, ‘There’s their office.’ There’s a personal attachment there that’s quite unique.”
The community that has taken shape here makes sense and gives her strength. “Whether they like to knit or do crafts or look at life in different ways, people find each other,” says McClintock. “The support system here is absolutely incredible, because we’re all right here together.”
“It really is a great place to live,” says Zajac. “You’re among good people. I don’t think you can ask for anything more.”